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Commentary: Acknowledging Black History is American History

Langston McFadden

Langston McFadden

This year we celebrate Black History Month locally, regionally and nationally during a worldwide pandemic that has touched, and in some cases devastated, the lives of so many individuals and families across this nation. The effects of COVID-19 have been felt in every community, by every race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, sexual orientation or creed. It has been a true equal opportunity and non-discriminatory devastator.

With all that the pandemic has taken from us as individuals, families and a nation, it has provided us with opportunities to come together, to help our neighbors, to aid friends and families in need and to appeal to the better nature that exists in each one of us. It has provided us an opportunity to set aside our differences and see each other as comrades in arms against an enemy that does not care about the insignificant and inconsequential differences we have as a people based on the amount of pigment we have, or do not have, in our skin tones.

If we have learned any lesson from dealing with the pandemic, that lesson should be that we are one people. We are all Americans and we come in different shades and colors. Different religions and beliefs. Different likes and dislikes. But no matter how many “differences” we can point out, that does not change the fact that we are all Americans and entitled to equal treatment and equal opportunities in the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. In the words of Maya Angelou, “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”

As we celebrate Black History Month, we should take the time to realize that Black History in this country is American History. Black contributions are contributions to America. The Black experience is just as relevant to the shaping and forging of this nation as is any other experience in our history. If this reality is in doubt in anyone’s mind, then they need but explore what some of those contributions were.

Garrett Morgan

Mr. Morgan was a Black inventor, born the son of a slave, who contributed several relevant inventions to the American way of life. Mr. Morgan was not a particularly learned man and possessed no more than an elementary school education. However, Mr. Morgan did possess a mind that was gifted with an understanding of how things worked and how to improve upon them when he saw deficiencies. It is for this reason that everyday items we use today as Americans exist because of the ingenuity and efforts of Garrett Morgan. The modern-day sewing machine and gas mask are but two such innovations. But, perhaps, the most significant invention of Mr. Morgan was the three-way traffic light. Yes, this device that has become an integral and necessary part of the safety of the roads throughout America was invented by the son of a slave. A Black American.

Mary Van Brittan Brown

There is not a single parent who does not worry about crime in their neighborhoods or a homeowner who does not fear coming home to a residence that has been burglarized and finding their personal belongings missing. The creation of the home security system has lessened those fears and provided peace of mind to millions of Americans across the country. Little known fact: This peace of mind creating invention was developed by — you guessed it — a Black American!

Mary Van Brittan Brown was a nurse who spent many nights at home alone in her residence in Queens, New York. Living in a high-crime area, she feared for her safety when home alone.

With nothing more than a desire to feel safety and security while her husband was away and an ingenuity that defines the American Spirit, Ms. Van Brittan Brown developed a security system that used a camera that could look through peepholes in her front door and project the images of those outside onto a monitor in her home. This gave Ms. Van Brittan Brown the ability to view and monitor any potentially unwanted and dangerous visitors. She later improved upon her invention by adding a microphone, which allowed her to speak to visitors at her door, a button that would automatically unlock the door and a panic button that would automatically contact the local police department.

The ingenuity and creativity of this Black American is the reason millions of Americans feel safe in their homes today.

Lewis Lattimore

Of course, every American knows the light bulb was created by Thomas Edison. But how many Americans know the light bulb was an imperfect invention that quickly burned out and did not provide longevity in its efforts to illuminate the dark? It was not until the carbon filament was developed by the son of a slave, Lewis Lattimore, that the light bulb came into its own. Mr. Lattimore fought in the Union Army during the Civil War and after the war ended began working in a patent law firm. During his time at the firm, he was recognized for his patent drafting talents and was promoted to head draftsman. It was in this position that he went on to create the carbon filament and co-invented an improved bathroom system for railroad trains.

The list of the incredible contributions Black people have made to everyday society is endless. To try to profile and pay respect to the inventors of the airplane propeller, coin changer, cotton gin, disposable syringe, torpedo discharger, ironing board, street sweeper, horseshoe, lawn mower, typewriter, automatic fishing reel, printing press, pressure cooker, pencil sharpener and fire extinguisher — to name only a few — would take far more time and more pages then allotted for this article.

As we celebrate another month of Black History, let us all not lose sight of the reality that was so eloquently stated by Morgan Freeman — “Black History is American History!”

Langston McFadden, Esq., is a Member at the Law Offices of Pullano & Farrow PLLC. Contact him at [email protected]